By Michael Otter
With the lack of ‘quality’ basketball movies hitting the shelves of local video stores in recent years, I have decided to review a movie that was released more than ten years ago, “Rebound – The Legend of Earl ‘The Goat’ Manigault.” I decided to review this movie because, aside from being one of my personal favourites, I don’t believe that it has received the exposure it deserves among today’s younger generation of hoops fans.
Growing up in southern Ontario, I was more than an eight-hour drive away from 155th Street & Frederic Douglas Boulevard in New York City, the virtual Mecca of street-ball past and present, Holcombe Rucker Memorial Playground. As an avid basketball player and fan, any street-ball history was delivered to me in the form of books and movies, and when it was released back in 1996, ‘Rebound’ was one of the best.
The movie stars Don Cheadle (Ocean’s Eleven, After the Sunset, Hotel Rwanda) who plays Harlem street-ball legend, Earl Manigault. It documents the real life tale of one of the best basketball players ever to hit the streets of New York City and, arguably, the best basketball player that never made it to play on a professional stage.
The movie begins by showing young Earl (played by Don Cheadle’s real life brother Colin) practicing on the court alone in the late night hour being watched over by local drug hustler Legrand, and his female friend. Upon attempting a slam dunk, young Earl gets rejected by the rim which prompts some chuckles from his small audience who proceeds to depart the scene. The camera then shifts down to a crouching Earl, rolling up the pant leg of his tattered blue jeans to reveal a leather, lace-up ankle weight which he calmly removes.
The story continues to chronicle the tale of Earl going from wide-eyed, junior-high dreamer, to being thrust into street-ball stardom and becoming the best high-school player in the nation. He carries his team at Benjamin Franklin all the way to the city championship game in his senior year, just to have it all taken away from him by getting expelled before the biggest game of his life against rival Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Earl attempts to get his life back on track with the aid of Holcombe Rucker himself (played by Forest Whitaker) and transfers to a private school in upstate New York. His life takes many drastic turns along the way, which force the youngster to carry the burden of a much older man. The pains and pressures of his life eventually lead him to a life of drugs and Earl begins to turn his back on the people who truly love him. Upon becoming a heroin addict, the underbelly of the Harlem streets ultimately strip the heart and soul from what once was the best player New York City had ever seen.
The movie also features the likes of James Earl Jones (Dr. McDuffie), and Eriq La Salle (Diego) who doubles as director for the film. Cameo appearances by NBA players Joe Smith, Kevin Garnett (who play the roles of Connie Hawkins and Wilt Chamberlain) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar add to the originality of the story.
This movie was filmed under the guidance of Earl Manigault himself, who even makes a short appearance during the credits at the end. Upon being released in 1996, I imagine that some of the scenes in the movie were probably ‘tweaked’ by Hollywood to make the audience more sympathetic towards the main character. But since Earl Manigault passed away from heart failure in 1998, there’s no doubt in my mind that ‘rebound’ is the best documentation of ‘The Goat’s’ life that the general public will ever see.
It’s truly sad to watch how such a young, gifted athlete with every opportunity to make it can have his entire life spiral out of control and hit rock bottom due to drug addiction. This writer is just pleased to know that the real Earl Manigault was able to see his life story told before it was taken away from him forever.